Fri, Jun 16, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Building China’s cyber dictatorship

By Li Jung-shian 李忠憲

When 1 percent of people in a despotic country or conservative society have the courage to stand up and seek to change it, they can stir up a groundswell. When 5 percent are willing to stand up, they can start an avalanche that leads to real change in that country or society.

Taiwan’s progression from despotism to democracy and its society’s advance from conservatism to diversity and openness were made possible by that 1 percent.

This 1 percent is a crucial flame. If it is extinguished, it will become very hard to change a country or society. This is the reason despotic states go out of their way to track down, control and extinguish this 1 percent.

When there is a dictatorship, the 1 percent might largely consist of students studying abroad, where they are in a relatively safe environment. Among people who hope to see their countries change for the better, it is relatively easy for those living abroad to stand up and speak their minds.

During Taiwan’s transition from dictatorship to democracy, many students studying in Europe, the US, Japan and other places bravely stood up and played the role of that 1 percent. Even though they might be placed on the government’s overseas blacklist, preventing them from ever returning to their homeland, they remained courageous and unafraid.

These people truly cared about Taiwan, loved it throughout their lives and hoped it could become a better place. Being overseas, they often felt left out, but they felt indebted to Taiwan and always hoped to contribute something.

On May 21, Chinese student Yang Shuping (楊舒平) spoke at the commencement ceremony at the University of Maryland. Her speech has been shared far and wide on Internet video sites, and some of the things she said have drawn strong criticism from all parts of Chinese society. Even the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on her to take responsibility and clarify her position.

What did Yang actually say? She said she had taken five face masks with her to the US, but had not needed any of them, because, as she said: “The air was so sweet and fresh, and utterly luxurious.”

Drawing her speech to a conclusion, she said: “Democracy and freedom are the fresh air that is worth fighting for. Freedom is oxygen. Freedom is passion. Freedom is love.”

The ministry responded in threatening tones, saying it wanted this overseas student to make a public apology. Beijing is trying to shift the focus of this incident by concentrating on Yang’s supposed humiliation of her home country.

Some Internet sleuths traced her background, saying that she came from Kunming in Yunnan Province, where she attended the Kunming No. 1 High School, and that the air quality there is not so bad. Some even said that she should go and study on the African savanna.

Any normal person can see what Yang was saying. Her story about five masks was obviously an exaggeration, but pollution and fresh, sweet air were not her main point. What matters is that sentence from the concluding part of her speech: “Democracy and freedom are the fresh air that is worth fighting for.”

It comes as no surprise that the affair ended with Yang making a public apology. Chinese are clever, and those who get to study abroad are the cleverest of them all. They do not expect a great deal from their home country.

The Chinese students I have known were never so foolish as to try and set their home country on the road to democracy and freedom so all its people could breathe that precious fresh air. They prefer to reside in other countries, breathing the fresh air of freedom and democracy for themselves, while helping to preserve China’s smog and haze.

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